These are our picks for the best albums of the last three months.
Read last year’s edition of “Best Albums of the Winter.”
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Can one describe music as Cronenbergian? Montreal producer and guitarist Vicky Mettler, aka Kee Avil, certainly evokes the director’s penchant for body horror on her debut LP, with her close-miked vocals highlighting the most unnerving aspects of ASMR. Sometimes she delivers words as if she’s slowly heaving them up (“saf”); sometimes, her vocals are so dry that they evoke nothing so much as an uncomfortable stickiness. Sometimes, they’re hissing whispers; other times, unnatural sighs discordant with her guitar work (“And I”). Beats are sparse and lyrics abstracted, stringing together imagery that sounds like the pattering constant dread of a mind turned solely inward upon itself. Phrases are repeated and stretched until they sound like threats—see “Okra Ooze” for a fine example. “I too, bury” is the shadow side of a traditional piano ballad, the elements of romanticism fractured and sticking out at terrible angles. Gauzy layers of nauseating noise suffuse “HHHH,” perhaps the most maximalist track here—but it’s Mettler’s restraint, her needly guitar and pinpoint piano, that really characterize the whole experience. And that’s the reason Crease sticks with me so heavily every time I listen to it, too; all of the space Mettler allows makes this feel human-scale and thus much more terrifying than any kind of big, broad gestures. You forget the jump scares after you’ve left the theater, but the little awful details of a horror movie are what stick around in your nightmares. Queasy listening—and I love it.
Read our Album of the Day on Crease.
Vinyl LP, T-Shirt/Shirt, Book/Magazine,
Oakland’s Sharmi Basu, aka Beast Nest, makes experimental music that feels immense and intimate all at once. They’re described by their contemporaries as one of the trailblazers of the Bay Area scene, someone who’s broken a lot of doors down for people who aren’t white and traditionally credentialled. Their latest, Sicko, is a meditation on grief, a way for Basu to process the losses of the Ghost Ship fire; years later, that horrific tragedy continues to impact the artistic communities of those who were lost in myriad ways. Of course, grief and healing aren’t linear processes, and Sicko reflects that. The somber and minimal “Jsun,” named for Jsun McCarty, who Basu was close to, swells and becomes the pulsing dance-drone “Kim, People Are Dying,” which offers a sense of suffusive, ecstatic release. (Two tracks are named for Kardashian memes; humor is necessary to healing, too.) “Into the Tangerine” abstracts out those rhythms again, wrapping bass burble and pulse in diaphanous synths for a trip to the shadow realm, while the nearly-heraldic call that opens the beautiful, naturistic “Frog” feels like an invitation to wake up. Sicko is raw and gorgeous, an album that feels like it captures the complexity of real life rather than reducing it to oversimplified auditory gestures.
Black Country, New Road
Ants From Up There
Vinyl Box Set, 2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette, Vinyl LP
In light of singer, guitarist, and principal songwriter Isaac Wood’s sudden departure from Black Country New Road for mental health reasons four days prior to the release of this highly anticipated album, the UK band’s would-be victory lap has led them to an unexpected crossroads, and presumably, a pause on their prolific, ascendant career. In the interim, we’ll just have to make do with Ants From Up There, a wellspring of uncanny mash-ups and festival-ready catharsis that not only lives up to our expectations, but exceeds them. Here, the core elements of BCNR’s sound (post-punk, art rock, prog, klezmer) clash far more frequently than they coalesce, producing an undercurrent of friction the band leverage into some of the most spectacular crescendos in contemporary rock history. When it comes to channeling dynamic tension into rock tour de forces, BCNR have plenty of weaponry at their disposal, ranging from measure-to-measure outbursts (check the harsh saxophone squalls kickstarting “Chaos Space Marine”); to slow-building collaborative suites that detonate seven minutes in (“Basketball Shoes”); to Wood’s quixotic, self-aware lyrics (“This place is not for any man / Nor particles of bread,” he sings on “Bread Song”). The end result serves as undeniable proof that the hype surrounding this band is 100 percent deserved, an album we’ll be playing for years to come.
Read our For Fans Of guide on Ants From Up There.
Remember Rainbow Bridge
Vinyl LP, Poster/Print
One of the most disarmingly affecting albums of the last three months, the gorgeous new album from Loke Rahbek takes as its subject the nostalgia for bygone youth and the painful knowledge that, as you get older, time starts to feel like it’s accelerating. When I wrote about it for our Essential Releases column I invoked the term “setsunai,” and that’s still the only way I can think to encapsulate the feeling of sweet melancholy that suffuses every second of this. For the most part, Rahbek keeps the music hushed and drifting, soft blankets of synth laid over quietly clicking rhythm tracks. Even without any lyrics, there’s a sense of wistfulness that’s hard to shake. On the title track, a quiet voice sings a wordless two-note hook over and over, and the way it drifts through the ethereal pads feels simultaneously lonely and content. With Rainbow Bridge, Rahbek has created the rare kind of album, a waking dream the meaning of which is as deeply felt as it is impossible to articulate.
Hamid El Shaeri
The SLAM! Years (1983-1988)
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
This fantastic compilation from the Habibi Funk label highlights the very beginning of Egyptian pop star Hamid Al Shaeri’s career, collecting standout tracks from his first five solo albums. Al Shaeri was at the forefront of the Al Jeel movement in the ‘70s and ‘80s; these were artists who fused Western disco, boogie, and new wave with existing Egyptian popular music, centering everything around bouncy bass and sleek synths. In his later, more commercially successful years, Al Shaeri would go on to carve out a signature, less Western-influenced sound. Here, one can absolutely hear the combination of Western R&B/funk and then-modern musical technology that proved irresistible the world over (as a fan of handclaps, I must recommend closer “Weyn Ayamak Weyn”), but Al Shaeri’s smooth voice is already confident, and the elements of then-contemporary Egyptian and Libyan pop are just as strong. For those who are familiar with his later hits, this compilation helps fill out his story—and might add a new favorite or two to the rotation. (These songs are catchy, and could still play on many a dancefloor.) And it makes a pretty good introduction for those unfamiliar, too.
Read our feature on Hamid El Shaeri.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
Empath probably don’t want to be called a psychedelic band but there’s something quite galactic about their approach to rock music on Visitor, on which the band creates an elegant clamor distinguished by an undercurrent of aggression making for a pleasingly dynamic tension between the Philadelphia band’s more blissed out impulses and their punk rock hearts. Though the sound is big and almost overwhelming at times, the band’s breathless energy matches the step up in production and the mood remains bright and winsome as the band spiral a rainbow of sunshiney hooks out into the cosmos.
Read our Album of the Day on Visitor.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
On Warm Chris, Aldous Harding scoots closer to the middle of the adult pop music road than ever before, though her gait remains delightfully sideways. This isn’t an insult; Harding has never been shy about her ambition. As early as 2017’s Party, Harding was openly fantasizing about what it would mean to make a hit record. She comes close on Warm Chris, which is Harding’s most superficially accessible collection of songs to date. The music is a stripped-down iteration of ’60s sunshine pop that recalls the dramatic baroqueness of Party combined with the frothy amiability of 2019’s Designer; nothing too challenging, everything copacetic. Where the drama happens is in the way Harding uses her voice—in elastic, freeform, and often squishy ways that lend her tales of love and romance a dark absurdity that feels real and modern amidst the head-nodding familiarity of the musical window dressing.
Read our Album of the Day on Warm Chris.
It Was A Home
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Kaina returns with a dazzling magnum opus on family, love, and belonging. Whereas her previous project leaned more into a bedroom pop and R&B sound, the Chicago singer brings 1970s-era soul into the modern-day on It Was a Home. On the titular track, Kaina paints the picture of her childhood home for listeners: “I used to live in the little room/In the little house with a crooked view,” she sings. The title track moves smoothly into the delightful “Good Feeling” which features fellow Chicago artist Sen Morimoto. Elsewhere she dives into the desire for love on the vintage-sounding soulful and smoldering “Sweetness”. The penultimate track is as much a message to listeners as it is a mantra for Kaina.“I would like to give myself/As much as I give everyone else,” she declares. Kaina’s album illustrates the connections between the love of home, family, and friends. Who are we without community asks It Was a Home.
Read our Album of the Day on It Was A Home.
peace places: kenyan memories
Composer Nyokabi Kariũki is currently based in the US, but her latest release is rooted firmly in Kenya, where she was born and raised. peace places is a beautiful small collection of pieces that capture the atmospheres of the places where Kariũki and her friends and family find serenity and grace. Multilayered vocals, percussive instruments and bells, spoken word, field recordings, and delicately pulsing and droning loops are combined with judicious use of space to create enveloping environments that carry an otherworldly sense of safety, as if they were soundtracks to the best of dreams. More freewheeling than much of her other work, these pieces still clearly have the imprint of her oeuvre at large, which brings together East African popular musics through the ages with the Western avant garde. Whether feeding goats, taking a walk through her grandmother’s farm with the rest of her family, or visiting the coastal town of Lamu with her childhood friend Naila Aroni (who also painted the cover art for peace places), Kariũki’s deftness at bringing us into her world is remarkable. She’s able to create emotion that communicates simply and directly, and to create images in sound. This young sound artist’s skill is already tremendous, and I can easily see her becoming a crucial voice in contemporary composition and experimental music.
Read our interview with Nyokabi Kariuki.
Armed To The Teeth L.M.O.M.M.
Cassette, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Shirt, Hat
On Armed to the Teeth L.M.O.M.M., Bonnie Baxter uses some of the most immediate music of her career as a way to explore some of her deepest pain. An unflinching excavation of childhood trauma—detailed in this excellent interview with The Quietus—Armed to the Teeth weaves home recordings of Baxter’s mother from the 1970s through songs that have, alternately, the limber bounce of trap and the greuling intensity of industrial music. “Slow Heat,” which lands early in the record, is the perfect combination of both; Baxter’s voice volleys taut syllables across a heat-warped synth line and martial percussion, the sole human element amidst a thicket of electronics. “Phantom Body 2” opens with a howl of digital noise before settling into a tense and humming rhythm, Baxter stretching syllables across the palpitating percussion. At times, the album can be maze-like: the snippets of the recordings of Baxter’s mother, who suffered from severe OCD, can be disorienting; but just when it feels like the album is about to plunge into darkness, Baxter reappears to serve as our guide through the digital dreamscape.
Read our Album of the Day on Armed To The Teeth L.M.O.M.M.
Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Shirt, Sweater/Hoodie
In the dead of winter, without fanfare or advance warning, Krallice quietly dropped one of the best metal albums of the year. The New York outfit’s most stunning release to date, Crystalline Exhaustion galvanizes the band’s eccentric alchemy into a series of apocalyptic, loosely subterranean-themed epics that offer something for everyone: complex riffs and abundant mode shifts for the music-theory nerds; vivid, esoteric poetry for the fans who religiously pore over lyrics sheets, and a motherlode of ear-splitting delights to satisfy any metal lover. Exploring Crystalline Exhaustions’ depths often proves daunting, but the alien delights the band scatter amongst the hazards—consider the sub-zero dungeon-synth arpeggios rippling across “Telos,” soft but corrupted like a demonic xylophone—are so unpredictable and interesting so as to render the tinnitus-inducing fever dream manageable, even invigorating. Over a decade in, we can still count on Krallice to deliver us from boring metal, and judging by this album, that won’t be changing anytime soon.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
Arriving after the release of her delightful Jams EP, Duality incorporates Li’s effervescent instrumentals with heartfelt lyrics. The opener woozy “Cherry Pit” is about making the most out of life: “And the earth lives in you/you’ve just got to listen. Cause it turns in you/ baby bloom,” she sings. Another standout is the dreamy “Flower (In Full Bloom)” where Li gets an assist from Dreamer Isioma. “You said you’d be my love and you/Said you’d be my flower/But the sun will never shine on a/Garden grown for power,” says Li about a withering relationship. The album ends with the single lyric “Lonely/Lovely”. “Stare at the sky,” says Li. It’s a good suggestion and a fitting end for an album about savoring the present.
Read our interview with Luna Li.
In an interview with CABBAGES, the Brooklyn rapper Lord Kayso admits, “Writing is therapeutic for me. It’s sort of like a journal.” That fact will be immediately apparent to anyone who spends even a few minutes with MOOR CHORES. Every song is a snapshot in a scrapbook: there’s Kayso on the hazy “Opulence,” sitting in a car with friends charting out a plan for success; there he is writing rhymes with a ginger beer by his side on “Baba Roots”; and on “New Bildersee,” he’s grappling with his feelings about his local park’s spiffy makeover: “In the back, we chilled for hours/ …now we got a track & field with flowers.” The specificity and the candor is the greatest part of the record’s charm; in the closing moments of “Slim Poppa,” we hear what sounds like Kayso romancing a woman in his bedroom, foamy keys bubbling up around their salacious laughter. Then, suddenly, the illusion is shattered by the voice of Kayso’s mother—“Go clean your blasted room!”—revealing the rendezvous to have been little more than wishful thinking. On MOOR CHORES, Kayso throws his journal open to the world, each entry sketched in sharp detail.
Vinyl LP, Cassette
A collaboration between Dallas artists MATTIE and Black Taffy, Jupiter’s Purse is MATTIE’s debut told from the perspective of their narrator Mhuv. “I’m very fond of the planet Jupiter in the astrological sense because Jupiter represents expansion,” says MATTIE of the title’s meaning. Over the course of five songs, MATTIE creates a singular sound crafted from a woozy mix of R&B, electronic, and hip-hop sounds. Opener “Cellfish” addresses uneasiness: I’ve built so many walls/ That I can’t climb over,” they sing. On the drone-inflected “Human Thing” MATTIE ponders their sense of self. The album’s standout is the lullaby-esque “Cloudts” where MATTIE declares: “I didn’t know that rocks are valuable/But I am a diamond and let me find out that I’m getting clout.
Read our Album of the Day on Jupiter’s Purse.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
Arriving a full decade after the last record under his moniker Joy Electric, the new album from Ronnie Martin serves as a kind of hard reset. By the end of their run, Joy E were making labyrinthine songs from modular synths that were undeniably fascinating to listen to, but which seemed to sideline Martin’s natural gift for hooks. From the Womb of the Morning veers hard in the other direction, a radiant synthpop album with colossal drums, huge choruses, and the classic Ronnie Martin lyrical eccentricities that longtime fans have come to know and love. (For example: “Shoo away all the wool horses/ In here you’ll find nary a murmur/ Lofty bluffs sparkle like droplets/ A porcelain stag crafted by giants”.) Musically, the shorthand here is, “OMD making The Hounds of Love”: On “There Go the Ships, Then Leviathan,” rolling toms bat around an eerie, quasi-synthwave minor-key melody until Martin strides into the center of the song with his big, theatrical tenor. Where his work as Joy Electric could often feel glass-fragile, From the Womb is swell-chested, boisterous, and commanding—muscular synthpop that mainlines joy straight to the soul.
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Close, Messa’s third full-length and Svart Records debut, hinges on a simple, yet satisfying paradox that upends the conventions of doom metal. Anchored by Sara Bianchia’s haunting vocal performances, as well as a wide array of atypical textures and tricks ranging from ouds and saxophone to jazz guitar and doric mode, the Italian band specialize in the rare strain of heavy music that feels stark and imposing, but also colorful and weightless. Taking equal cues from Dead Can Dance’s gloomy art rock, Om’s stoned spirituals, Blue Cheer’s hazy proto-metal, and Middle eastern folk music, highlights like “Dark Horse” lend grace to doom’s lumbering cadence without sacrificing the menace. Close might be labeled as doom, but make no mistake: Messa’s tortured world is bursting with life.
Compact Disc (CD)
Mo Dotti make bendy, moody music that sounds like if Slant 6 were a shoegaze band. On the sweet and crunchy Guided Imagery, the L.A. rock group drop some of the rougher textures of their 2020 EP Blurring in favor of tempering their heaviness with a sprinkling of sugar. There’s a post-punk simplicity with which the band approach an often-overwrought and over-embellished genre, and though it mostly manifests as gleamy indie pop (which is, of course, post-punk), Mo Dotti are at their strongest when they’re following their artier impulses into less-trodden indie rock territory, as on the wonky, dramatic “Come On Music” or the crooked and creepy “Hurting Slowly.”
I’ve been a fan of Ivy Sole’s since discovering them in 2016 in the Daily’s earliest days, just paging through new uploads. The Philly-via-Charlottesville rapper stepped out onto the scene fully formed, with soulful, crisply detailed production and heady, personal lyrics. This doesn’t mean they haven’t grown significantly from release to release though, each one feeling as if it’s a new chapter in a remarkably self-reflective and thoughtfully edited autobiography. Here, they come out swinging on opener “Easy to Kill,” a stunner of a track examining the precarity of Black life in America and the strength of Black resistance. They’re not afraid to examine their personal life with the same incisive eye (“Call Me,” “Dangerous”), and they don’t let us forget that they’re an adept neo-soul singer too (“One More Night,” “Bamboo,” “What You Deserve”). The production feels sharp and contemporary while retaining the nods to classic R&B and soul that are a hallmark of Sole’s sound, and they are as ever an adept and thoughtful wordsmith that can spin direct, impactful narrative, poetics, and layered references together as if it’s no thing to do so. “Runaway,” a poignant reflection on familial abuse and generational trauma, extends its themes into the gentle “Otherside” to close out the album. It feels like a force of nature coming to rest—for now.
On Diaspora Problems, Soul Glo push back against the decades of intolerance that have plagued contemporary hardcore, instead leaning into genre’s best impulses with a message of solidarity, empathy, and resistance. The Philadelphia band don’t touch the scene’s third rail so much as they rip it from its sockets and hurl it into the crowd, confronting punk’s (historically mostly white) audience with the systemic biases and rampant gatekeeping we’d rather ignore. Soul Glo don’t dish out these harsh truths out of a desire to educate us (we’ll need to do that work on our own) but instead as a exuberant, immortal statement of defiance; party-starters like “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?)” and “We Wants Revenge,” coupled with guest turns from lojii, McKinley Dickson, BEARCAT, and more, position Diaspora Problems as a triumphant album first and foremost. Writing for Bandcamp Daily, John Morrison characterized the record—and Soul Glo’s work as a whole—as “vibrant, ecstatic resistance in the form of sound,” a fitting description; with luck, these rippers form the bedrock of a full-scale revolution.
Read our interview with Soul Glo.
The latest EP from Philadelphia’s Orion Sun (born Tiffany Majette) is a delicate listen about love, lows, and wonder. The airy ‘Intro” starts the project with a wide-open, spacious sound with synths, layered choruses, and piano keys. “If you wanna stay/only give my best to you. If you wanna go/I wish the best for you,” she sings over the breezy melody. The project continues with the soulful and world-weary “Pressure: “All this pressure got me wishing I was six feet deep,” sings Majette.” The album closes with the glistening “Celebration”. “I can’t believe I know you/Can’t believe we share air,” sings Majette. On Getaway, Majette builds a boundless, mile-high musical world that feels limitless.
The Canadian singer and performance artist brings listeners into the digital world of their alter ego Maloo. Described as “science fiction lullabies,” the album begins with the electro drip drops of “Age of Energy”. “Comе rescue us from linear time and loss,” sings Todd—setting the tone for the rest of the conceptual album. The energy shifts on the upbeat and bubbly “Grab Your Guts”. I grab my guts and my hardwire/Still manning up, still manning up,” declares Todd. The album ends with the saccharine “Absolute Time and Space” that encourages listeners to mind the ones they love: “And as life shortens by a day/I still find the words hard to say/ Let’s do this with the ones I love/Let’s do this with the ones we love,” sings Todd. A good message for both the digital and IRL worlds.
Read our Album of the Day on Maloo.
Compact Disc (CD), Cassette, Vinyl LP
If Hatsune Miku is the avatar of post-internet optimism in pop—an immortal megastar capable of performing anywhere instantaneously without forgetting a lyric or messing up a note, who never forgets to smile—then yeule represents the limitations of such a futurist mindset, the human anguish haunting even the most advanced code. That their new album, Glitch Princess, implements similarly polished electro-pop escapism (not to mention it depicts a figure similar to the aforementioned Vocaloid star on the cover) is telling of the London-via-Singapore singer and producer’s subversive genius. On the surface, their universe resembles a boundless virtual utopia, but it’s just another portal to personal hell; standout songs like “Friendly Machine” and “Eyes” reflect on mental illness in the online age, giving the ghost in the machine a voice: “People leave so suddenly / Suffering, peace offering / Virtual life is altering.” Addressing the album’s takeaways in a recent interview with the Daily, yeule referenced their personal struggles with loneliness and isolation, framing their overarching message of empathy in transcendental terms: “It’s nice to know that there are souls who come from the same star who will be there to hear you.” We couldn’t put it better ourselves.
Zeal & Ardor
Zeal & Ardor
2 x Vinyl LP, Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Already a strong contender for Rock Record of the Year, the latest from Zeal & Ardor lands as a hearty “fuck you” to anyone who had the nerve to accuse Manuel Gagneux’s project of being a gimmick. What started as a clever idea on paper—merge black metal with Black music—has evolved into something bigger. For one thing, Gagneux’s stylistic palette has expanded. There’s still plenty of black metal—see, for example, the roaring middle section of “Emersion”—but on songs like “Bow,” Gagneux fuses gospel-y melodies with grizzled riffing for a final product that feels towering and severe—pissed-off declarations shouted down from Mount Olympus, punctuated by thunderclaps of guitar. The tense, gospel-y melody of “Church Burns” pairs perfectly with its hammering riffs, and early high point “Death to the Holy” is stormy and apocalyptic, Gagneux delivering a searing blues melody over grindcore riffing. On previous Zeal & Ardor records, it occasionally felt like the various genre elements were siloed; here, they all collide, throwing off spectacular heat, leveling everything in their path.